UK companies were worried about outlook even before lockdown - CBI

Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London

LONDON (Reuters) - British companies in key sectors were already bracing for the biggest hit to business since 2009 even before last week's shutdown of the much of the economy as the government moved to slow the spread of coronavirus, an employers' group said.

Surveys conducted in the first half of March showed consumer services firms, such as restaurants, bars and cinemas, were the most pessimistic, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said on Sunday.

A measure of their expectations for business volumes in the next three months showed a balance of -47%.

The balance for manufacturers stood at -20% while the retail sector's sales expectations fell to -31%, it said.

"Expectations of a sharp fall in activity give some sign of what is to come," Alpesh Paleja, the CBI's lead economist, said.

"With strict social distancing measures still to be reflected in our data, the picture is only likely to deteriorate from here."

On the other hand, business and professional services firms expected growth in the coming quarter.

The CBI data is compiled from surveys of manufacturing and retail sectors, which it publishes separately, and a gauge of the services sector.

The balances represent the difference in percentage points between the share of firms answering that output is, or is likely to be, up or down.


(Reporting by William Schomberg; editing by Stephen Addison)